On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a three-month moratorium on extending the operation periods for its nuclear power plants, which account for 23 percent of the nation’s power. Under the moratorium, seven plants that began operating before 1980 will be shut down, leaving 10 plants still operational. The move is a reversal for Merkel, who last year made the controversial decision to keep the plants running until the mid-2030s.
Switzerland also suspended its nuclear plans pending a safety review, and the European Union called for an emergency meeting of energy ministers Tuesday to assess, among other points, the idea of running stress tests on the EU’s 143 nuclear plants.
But other world leaders, while calling for caution and analysis, were less quick to halt their own nuclear energy plans. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who initially indicated that he would not back away from nuclear power, called for a domestic “analysis of the current condition of the atomic sector and an analysis of the plans for future development” Tuesday. France, meanwhile, promised safety checks on its 58 nuclear reactors. But, at a gathering of G8 powers, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, “to say to the French that we are going to give up nuclear power would be lying.”
India has so far refused to reconsider its plans to ramp up its nuclear power generating capability, but its environment minister said that “additional safeguards” would be considered. India’s planned expansion would more than quadruple its nuclear power capacity by 2020.
In the United States, which has 104 reactors nationwide and is the No. 1 consumer of nuclear power in the world, President Barack Obama’s plans to guarantee federal loans for the construction of new reactors will face additional scrutiny. Southern Company, which has already been promised $8 billion in one of those federal loans, plans to build two reactors near Augusta, Ga., by 2017. The reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant would be the first ones built in the United States since the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979. And while Southern says its $14 billion project remains on track, the company got a lot of questions from state officials this week — and the project is sure to be part of the debate over how nations assess the safety of nuclear energy going forward.